There’s more than enough in Shania Twain’s life story to sustain a miniseries, but this career-spanning doc packs it all into 90 minutes. Not Just A Girl is definitely brisk and a little reluctant, like Twain herself, to dwell on the adversities she’s faced. Actually, the singer’s label boss Luke Lewis pretty much sums up the prevailing narrative when he says: “You’d have to take a sledgehammer to knock her down, and she’d get up.” But as a testament to the singer’s resilience and genuinely groundbreaking career, it’s an enjoyable and sometimes enlightening watch.
Twain’s superstar status and genre-crossing appeal is reflected in talking head contributions from artists as varied as Avril Lavigne, Diplo, Lionel Richie and Orville Peck. Country-pop singer Kelsea Ballerini points out that Twain has a remarkable knack for writing about everyday experiences in a way that feels definitive: there are other female empowerment songs, but none quite as unifying ’Man! I Feel Like A Woman!’. However, director Joss Crowley mainly traces Twain’s career arc through new interviews with the singer herself. The fact they seem to have been filmed in various beautifully decorated rooms in Twain’s Lake Geneva home only adds to this rags-to-riches story.
Twain doesn’t gloss over her tough start in life, but she’s much too private a person to parcel up trauma porn for the camera. She talks matter-of-factly about growing up poor in a Canadian mining town and mentions that theirs was “a violent household”, but doesn’t expand on what this entailed. As a survivor of abuse, which she wrote about in her 2011 memoir From This Moment On, that is absolutely her prerogative. She’s more forthcoming when it comes to the devastating impact of losing her parents in a car crash when she was 22. This left her financially responsible for three younger siblings, so she took a job performing at a local holiday resort that paid well enough to put food on the table. Crucially, it also convinced her once and for all that music was her calling.
Not Just A Girl then skips forward to Twain signing a record deal and heading to Nashville to make a flop debut album that she had little creative control over. Archive footage shows TV interviewers focusing more on Twain’s looks than her music: hardly the last time she would come up against deeply reductive sexism. The turning point comes when she forms a songwriting and romantic partnership with Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange, a big-shot producer known for working with rock bands like AC/DC and Def Leppard. Together, they crafted 1995’s ‘The Woman In Me’, the album that made Twain a country superstar, and 1997’s ‘Come On Over’, which made her a global icon whose crossover success paved the way for Taylor Swift. Twain’s then-manager Jon Landau says that when he first heard ‘Come On Over’, he was convinced every song could be a hit. Sure enough, 12 of the album’s 16 tracks became singles.
Unsurprisingly, Lange is absent here. Twain likens the sense of grief she felt when they divorced in 2010 to losing her parents, but it’s left to an archive clip to spell out that he had an affair with her best friend. More time is spent on the Lyme disease that obliterated Twain’s singing voice for several years, but Not Just a Girl ends on an upbeat note: a successful Vegas residency, chart-topping comeback album (2017’s ‘Now’) and new recording sessions with Years & Years producer Mark Ralph. You won’t come away feeling as though Shania Twain has bared her soul, but you will have renewed respect for the talent, vision and hard work that made her an era-defining artist.
- Director: Joss Crowley
- Featuring: Shania Twain, Avril Lavigne, Orville Peck
- Release date: July 26 (Netflix)